Do you know how to distinguish the imperial eagle from Bonelli’s song or the common blackbird’s song from a real woodpecker? Bird tourism is a unique experience that is gaining a following And in it work professionals from a sector whose growth is as promising as it is sustainable. Despite the fact that in Spain there are no data on the growth of this type of tourism, there are studies attesting to its importance, such as those carried out by the General Directorate of Tourism of Extremadura: they receive between 50,000 and 70,000 ornithological tourists annually, out of 39.6 % stay in the area between three and five days (2.2% spend more than 10 nights), with an average cost of €81 per day, which rises to €90 in the case of international tourists. By places of origin, 77.8% are Spanish and the remaining 22.2% are from international markets.
Vanessa Palacios, Coordinator of the Birding Club of Extremadura and Technician of the Organizing Committee of the FIO, the International Ornithological Exhibition that celebrates at the end of February its 18th edition in the city of Villareal de San Carlos, knows all this very well, and is one of the veterans of the sector and the second in importance in Europe. “It is celebrated in the heart of the Montferrague National Park, a Mecca of scouting tourism in the region and a European reference point for large birds of prey. Bird tourism is a great opportunity for uninhabited areas because it takes place in rural areas, and small accommodations are preferred in cities, in the middle of the countryside, as tourists get acquainted with other natural and cultural resources in the region, ”he explains, realizing that there is an increasing demand every year. «In the release The latter, about 16,000 visitors passed through FIO in one weekend.And although the majority come from the regions of Spain, we note that the number of foreigners is also increasing.
Many companies dedicated to bird tourism have emerged as small initiatives of individuals, dispersed and without much contact with each other. It is for this reason that the Extremadura Bird Club was created, a public-private group to promote bird tourism in the region, and to make all those companies committed to the territory and nature conservation more visible and valuable. Because this tourism activity cannot be understood without conservation and vice versa.
Santi Villa has been running “Spainbirds” for 24 years and is Spain’s pioneer in bird tourism. «In the beginning we had to compete with a large number of already integrated foreign agencies because the foreign tourist was the main applicant, and now we take Spaniards to international destinations. Bird tourism is easily accessible, and there are exhibits, books, guides, apps to help with observing… It’s a growing market where there’s also more competition,” though he explained that “it’s not a business to invest or enrich yourself, but a lifestyle.” Villa acknowledges “significant change in the last 10 years and that there are many new people getting close to birdwatching, encouraged by the increased nature and outdoor tourism post-pandemic.”
By 2023 Spainbirds has planned eight trips outside Spain “and we have already completed them”, says this expert who also draws attention to the “boom” of nature photography. “Technology has allowed many people to have access to semi-professional equipment In a more economical way, many offers have appeared to photograph birds from skins (watch skins) with guarantees of success, ”explains Fella, who specifies that bird tourism has a path and a market.
A boom in which a balance between recreation and conservation is essential, and for this, experts agree, it’s best to start observing with evidence. “You have to know which species are susceptible, when they’re breeding…ornithology resources have to be taken care of so they don’t get terminated,” says Jordi Prieto, SEO/BirdLife biologist and ornithologist. Increased ornithological tourism or the rise of nature photography can lead to closer approaches to species that are not always beneficial. “Birds are a fragile resource and they already suffer many attacks due to many factors, and the least we can ask of those who love them is to take care and respect them,” the expert insists.
Birding tourists spend an average of €81 per day in the areas they visit
For this reason, they launched from this organization the Iberaves initiative that “brings together all kinds of bird tourism professionals such as accommodation, houses, activity companies, restaurants… who share a commitment to good practices, ensuring that their tourism project is compatible with nature and bird conservation. To do this, they have training Free and professional advice,” Prieto explains. It also highlights the importance of bird tourism being inclusive. For SEO/BirdLife recently introduced Project Banoffee, an international initiative promoting deaf inclusion in bird identification and created 60 new tags for different species.
Luly Carrasco is co-owner of Mas de Bunyol, an old farmhouse in Teruel restored in the middle of nature, unique in the world: built inside a reserve of wild vultures and a field. “An observatory was built in the house so he could see the vultures,” he explains. And that, in addition to being able to see them flying in the surroundings, sitting in the pine forests or, sometimes, on the balconies of the properties, visitors can attend the moment when her husband, José Ramón Moragrega, known as Buitreman- feeds for 30 years and does not More than 400 eagles miss one day. “Before, foreign observers, Spaniards or professional photographers would come, but now these activities concern more people who have not had contact with observation or families seeking to teach their children a respect for nature.”
But to educate and begin to teach the little ones the wonders of birds, it is not necessary to go out into the field. Something Javier Rico and María Luisa Pinedo were very clear about when starting “Aver Aves.” “We have celebrated ten years of imparting environmental education with our winged neighbours, teaching more than 6,000 pupils the species found in their environment, in cities, next to their schools…an experience they can share with their classmates, their teachers and even their families. Already accepted by the RAE – it provides unique sensations. I still feel the same feelings with a sparrow as with an imperial eagle, ”Reiko admits.
Antonio Sandoval, ornithologist and author of “De pajareo” (GeoPlaneta), stresses the importance of bird watching for mental health. Studies show that daily encounters with birds, even in cities, are associated with lasting improvements in mental health. And for both healthy people and those with depression issues” and insists, “Spain is one of the best birding destinations in the world with unique species that we can enjoy and that we have an obligation to conserve. “